Smith Discussion this Sunday


We’ll be discussing Zadie Smith’s NW at BookPeople this Sunday at 5pm. This is, as always, open to anyone who wants to come by and talk.

About a week out I start getting excited about book group. I’ve spent the month being excited about the book and the author. But a week out is when I start forming, in my mind and on paper, what the discussion might look like. This is all done casually and in between my real life.

We tend to meet for two hours, but I only have (limited) control over the first 10 minutes. What I do with that 10 minutes is ramshackle and purposeful. I introduce the group, set our schedule, and give a small biography of our author. I think this helps grease the transition between not talking to anyone about a book for a month to complete immersion in a literary discussion with strangers. I’ve attended a number of book discussions, and my feeling is that the hardest thing to do is start a smart conversation on a fixed schedule. It’s like telling a comedian to “Be funny,” but in this case it’s telling people to “be smart”. It never works. I haven’t figured out how to start strong, so I’ve attempted to limit the damage by starting inconsequentially.

There’s an old sports saying, you can’t win the game in the first quarter, but you can lose it. Getting started in the right direction is important. Two things I want to avoid in the first 10 minutes are:

Camps being built. The “I liked it” vs. the “I hated it” camps lead to battle lines and no real discussions because people stop listening to each other.

Shop talk. “This book is like that one we read two years ago… remember?” Conversations that are reliant on information that doesn’t live in the text we are currently reading are dead ends for open interactions between old and new friends. These types of conversations are great, but are better left for the last part of group, when people have had their say and just want to get to know each other a little better.

After the introduction, schedule, and biography are out of the way, I do the last planned thing of the night: I ask a question. Some of you already know, but I agonize over this question, and I’ve yet to get it right. I want to ask something that doesn’t sound forced, and sends us directly into the text. I want it to be thought provoking and challenging, but universal. I want everybody to be able to answer it, but not have it be leading in any way. This is the criteria, and I miss my mark monthly. That’s ok, usually one of the regulars bails me out by answering in a way that resembles this, “I’m not sure about that, but what fascinated me was this…”  And my mind is put at ease, and my heart filled with gratitude.

With all of this in mind, and in an effort to make this blog useful, I’m going to be posting a few possible opening questions here. This should happen within a week of the discussion date. This will give you a chance to think about, ridicule, and counter the question in a public forum. Please feel free to come up with a question you think works, or let us know what you’ll want to talk about at group. To anyone who can’t make it to group, this is your chance to put in your two cents. Feel free.

I’ll post my first question later today or tomorrow.

Thank you for your time.


One thought on “Smith Discussion this Sunday

  1. Pingback: Four Questions for Possibility | The Voyage Out Book Group

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